Moments before jury selection was to begin Wednesday, a Suffolk judge was forced to postpone a murder trial because prosecutors had just found out that the county crime lab has not yet tested key forensic evidence.
The delay came in the second-degree murder case of Adam Saalfield, 22, of Huntington Station. He is accused of sneaking up on his neighbor, Maggie Rosales, 18, as she walked along Depot Road and slashing her neck in the fall of 2014.
State Supreme Court Justice John Collins did not hide his frustration at having to delay the trial just as 151 jurors were about to be brought to the courtroom, slamming a file on the bench as he took his seat.
“This has me out of my mind angry,” Collins said. “I have no choice but to adjourn the trial.”
Assistant District Attorney Raphael Pearl took the blame for the delay in testing swabs from a rape exam done during Rosales’ autopsy after the Oct. 12, 2014, attack. Pearl said that while reviewing the case file on Saturday in preparation for the trial, he realized the lab had not tested the swabs.
Pearl said he got word Wednesday morning that there was semen on one swab, but DNA testing still has to determine whose it is. Rosales had “contact” with her boyfriend the night before her death, but authorities ruled him out as a suspect, Pearl said.
But if the DNA belongs to anyone but Saalfield, the defense could argue that person might be the killer.
“It could have a profound effect on the case,” said Saalfield’s attorney, Craig McElwee. “All of this should have been done in the first 90 days after the arrest. Obviously the judge is upset, because this is not the way it should be done.”
Pearl has said previously that surveillance video shows Saalfield tackling Rosales and that a trail of blood leads a quarter mile from the crime scene to Saalfield’s house.
Prosecutors are legally obligated in every case to turn over any evidence helpful to the defense as soon as they are aware of it.
Collins said this was the second day in a row that he was dealing with a murder case in which prosecutors had not done so. Earlier this week, after repeated defense claims that prosecutors had withheld evidence, Collins ordered prosecutors to turn over items in the case of Dante Taylor, a Mastic man accused of raping and stabbing to death Sarah Goode, 21, of Medford.
Collins noted there were “sexual overtones” to the attack on Rosales all along.
“Don’t you think you should have had the rape kit tested in October ?” a seething Collins said to Pearl.
“I understand the court is rightfully upset,” Pearl replied.
“You have no idea,” Collins said.
“Oh, I think I do,” Pearl said.
Collins said now Saalfield’s trial likely won’t take place until July.